Health Care Careers - Dentist

Seeing a dentist on a regular basis is an important part of preventive dental care. Dentists today are focusing more and more on preventive care (that is, taking care of teeth before there is a problem) in order to help people avoid having to undergo complicated dental procedures for painful conditions, such as gum disease. In addition to providing people with advice on preventive dental care and good oral hygiene, dentists diagnose and treat problems of the teeth and gums. This ranges from cleaning teeth to filling cavities, taking X rays, and repairing damaged teeth.

A typical visit to a dentist will entail the dentist using a variety of tools, such as X-ray machines and instruments (mouth mirrors and probes), to examine the teeth. After evaluating a patient's X rays, a dentist will treat problems, for example tooth decay, and clean the teeth. The dentist may then advise a patient as to how to improve the home dental care routine, offering advice on brushing or flossing techniques as well as recommending new products, such as a new oral rinse.

Other services, like sealing children's teeth to prevent cavities, pulling teeth, and making dentures (false teeth), are familiar tasks to dentists. Dentists also provide cosmetic services, including whitening the teeth.

Most dentists work in either private practice or in group practices with other dentists who provide similar or different dental services. These dentists are often supported by dental hygienists (who clean teeth and provide instruction on good oral care) and dental assistants (who assist the dentist and the hygienist in procedures). Other dentists may work in large clinics. Still other dentists may become instructors or researchers.

Dentists, like medical doctors, often specialize in treating different populations of people, like pediatric dentists who treat children, or provide particular dental services, such as orthodontics, periodontics, or oral surgery. Orthodontists, the largest group of specialists, concentrate on straightening the teeth. Periodontists treat the gums and the bone supporting the teeth. Oral surgeons operate on the mouth and the jaws.

Training to Be a Dentist

Training for dentists begins with a bachelor's degree (four-year college degree), which usually includes a course of study that focuses on the sciences, such as biology and chemistry. Applicants to dental schools then take

the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). Once students have entered four-year dental schools, they study in the classroom and laboratory. From there, dental students treat patients in dental clinics under the supervision of licensed dentists. After students graduate from dental school with degrees of doctor of dental surgery (D.D.S.) or doctor of dental medicine (D.M.D.), they must pass written and practical licensing exams in order to practice dentistry.

Specialists, such as oral surgeons and pediatric dentists, usually must go through an additional two to four years of postgraduate education. Many states then require that a specialty license be obtained before a dentist may practice as a specialist.

In addition to educational requirements, the best dentists are those with good diagnostic ability and manual (hand) skills. A good visual memory, excellent judgment of space and shape, and strong communication skills are also essential.

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